I love trains. This can be an awkward thing to admit in certain company but I'm no anorak train spotter and I don't have a model train set in the basement - I just love everything about travelling by train.

They have so much more to offer the traveller than simply getting from A to B; great train journeys are adventures in themselves, always generating good memories and can be a holiday in itself.

Top travel tips:

I'm not talking about crowded commuter trains into the city centre but great railway journeys - grand excursions through novel and exotic landscapes, meeting people from all walks of life and relaxing in spacious comfort.

Maybe dining on champagne and caviar or buying home-made pirozhki (a savoury pie) for a few cents from a babushka at a brief station halt en-route through Siberia.

Trains are no longer the preserve of those who can't afford to fly or the train spotter obsessed with locomotive engine numbers. Rail travel has been rediscovered by the modern eco-friendly traveller who wants some adventure without too much hassle or discomfort.

Rail travel does not have the monotonous uniformity of air travel nor are you anonymously processed like a piece of cargo, to be strapped into a seat until you can be off-loaded.

Maybe you think that because trains are stuck on tracks the scope for exploration is limited but the array of rail travel possibilities is huge, you can travel fast or slow, active or lazy, five star or two star, with luxury dining or BYO, meet locals or travel with people from home.

If it's slow and historic that appeals then the North Yorkshire Moors Railway would be hard to beat. Built by George Stephenson himself, the Whitby to Pickering steam railway line opened in 1836.

Trains on this route criss-cross the River Esk as they puff their way uphill though woodland to the quintessential Victorian station of Goathland.

You might find that Goathland (aka Aidensfield or Hogsmeade) and its surrounding scenery are familiar if you've seen the TV series Heartbeat or Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Onwards from Goathland the train climbs on to wild heather-clad moorland, crossing bogs and passing old lead mine workings until finally pulling in to the historic market town of Pickering.

But if it's speed and modernity you relish then the Nozomi, Japan's bullet train, hurtling along at 300km/h is for you. The ride is so smooth you can stand a coin on the table and it won't topple over.

The Tokyo to Osaka Nozomi will get you to your destination before air passengers have settled into their seat at Tokyo's Narita airport. Its punctuality is mind blowing, consistently arriving within six seconds of its scheduled timetable.

On a clear day you flash past Mt Fuji but what I liked most were the ultra-smart carriage attendants who bow to passengers as they enter and leave the carriage and of course the bento boxes of sushi which outclass a curling ham sandwich every time.

If you're more into epic journeys, the Trans-Mongolian route is in a league of its own or as travel writer Eric Newby said: "The Trans- Siberian is THE big train ride. All the rest are peanuts."

About 8000km and seven days, this journey starts in Moscow, crosses the Urals and leaves Europe for Siberia, it then bears south into Mongolia and east, across the Great Wall, into China, halting in Beijing.

Expect to be confused by the time as trains run on Moscow time no matter what the time is for the world beyond the train. Depending on when you go, expect temperatures to vary between -30C and 40C - fortunately not on the same trip.

But if the thought of seven days straight travel is unbearable there are plenty of hop-on-and-off options.

You could pause at Yekaterinburg and ghoulishly visit the site where Tsar Nicholas and the entire Romanov family were murdered, or Irkutsk to explore the incomparably vast Lake Baikal.

Then there's Mongolia's capital, Ulan Bator, the vast rolling Steps and the formidable Gobi Desert.

As for accommodation, you could travel cattle class sleeping along with 30-odd other travellers or book four-berth or two-berth cabins. But if you don't want to experience the hurly burly of local cultures there are a number of luxury private trains - at a premium price.

If you've travelled that far it would be a shame not to go the whole hog and change trains for Tibet and travel on the Beijing to Lhasa express.

If epic journeys are not your thing, perhaps you would prefer record-breaking train journeys?

The Euro tunnel connecting Britain and France has been voted one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It's the longest and deepest undersea train journey and connects the two capital cities in just over two hours.

Scheduled flights between London and Paris have understandably plummeted as who in their right mind would fly when you could complete the journey in the time it normally takes to check-in.

The Eurostar train also travels from city centre to city centre - it's far more spacious than an aircraft and culinary choices are superior to plane fodder. Trains depart every hour and as you belt along there's barely enough time to enjoy the rolling countryside of Kent and Picardy.

Two hours just isn't really enough on this super-train so why not change trains in Paris and speed on down to Nice on the Mediterranean.

But if undersea trains are off-putting, consider the opposite extreme and ascend to 4829m while crossing the Andes from Lima to Huancayo on the Central Andean railway in Peru.

That's twice as high as Mt Kosciuszko (2228m), Australia's highest mountain. Aircraft need to provide oxygen above 3600m so there's a danger of altitude sickness but the onboard train nurse can provide a puff from the oxygen cylinders if necessary.

This 12-hour journey is so steep that the track zigzags like a fairground ride across 66 bridges and through its 59 tunnels.

Coca is the standard local remedy for altitude sickness and coca tea is served throughout the journey although many locals still prefer the traditional option of chewing coca leaves, which is the raw form of cocaine.

The landscape is starkly brutal, forbidding and desolate - beautiful in its way - but very little can survive at this altitude apart from the condors. But if you have high blood pressure or heart problems you might want to give this one a miss.

Then there are great train journeys across Africa, China, India, South-East Asia, US and to every corner of Europe.

If you can't organise one of these great journeys just now, you could do some armchair travelling with a new book on Great Train Journeys of the World. It's a fascinating collection of 40 great railway journeys from around the world.

My small contribution to the book was the fabulous Indian-Pacific route from Sydney that brought me to Perth for the first time.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save